Hip Extensor Training – Exercises for a Better Butt
By: David Larson, MS, CSCS
Deep squats, lunges, and deadlifts have traditionally been used to train the lower extremities, including the posterior chain. Each of these exercises can be incredibly effective at enhancing: strength, functional capacity, range of motion, and hypertrophy. This is primarily because the hip extensor musculature is in a position where the muscle is under high tension at a medium or long length, this results in high tension in these muscles and allows for high amounts of muscle damage and subsequent delayed onset muscle soreness to occur.
Although these are all great exercises, they do not address strength through the entire range of motion. Furthermore, when performed without other hip extensor exercises, they may lead to strength imbalances and suboptimal hip extensor development. For this reason, non-axial loaded exercises such as barbell hip thrusts and 45 degree back extensions can be used to apply torque to the hip extensor musculature when in a shortened position (Contreras, Cronin, Schoenfeld, Nates, & Sonmez, 2013). This has been suggested to be beneficial in promoting hypertrohpic adaptation via greater metabolic stress and altered torque curves (Contreras et al., 2013; Schoenfeld, 2013).
Contreras et al. (2013) demonstrated that instantaneous external torque on the hip extensor musculature is maximized in a position of full hip extension during horizontal back extension exercises. The barbell hip thrust is a bent knee hip hyperextension exercises that targets the gluteus maximus, placing them under maximal loading in a contracted and shortened state. Because of the bent knee positioning, the hamstrings are placed in a shortened position; thus, active insufficiency limits their involvement in the exercise (Contreras, Cronin, & Schoenfeld, 2011). This allows the gluteal muscles to be targeted to a greater extent than other hip extensor exercises. Furthermore, this exercise allows for a greater build up of metabolites and hypoxia because the glutes are being worked in a shortened position.
In contrast to the barbell hip thrust, the 45 ̊ back extension exercise places the knees in a straightened position. This exercise places maximal instantaneous external torque on the hip extensors in a position of 135 ̊ of hip flexion (Contreras et al., 2013). Additionally, this means the instantaneous torque throughout the entire range of motion is higher than many other hip extensor exercises.
As with training any muscle group, it is important to consider the goal of training. For most people, that goal is to increase strength and/or build muscle. Furthermore, as fitness professionals it is important to make sure that these increases in strength and muscle mass are transferred to enhanced physical function in daily activities or during competition. To accomplish this, it is important to work the muscles at different angles and at different tensions. Squats, particularly deep squats, are great for working the quadriceps and gluteal musculature at a length that will create high muscular tension, and subsequent muscle damage (Contreras et al., 2013). On the other hand, exercises such as the barbell hip thrust will work the glutes in a position that will promote a greater buildup of metabolites in the muscle (Contreras et al., 2013). Moreover, it is likely that a combination of each would be most effective at promoting hypertrophic adaptations (Schoenfeld, 2013). There is a lot to consider when designing programs for clients/athletes. Physical limitations and goal should be major determinants of how the program is structured.
Contreras, B., Cronin, J., & Schoenfeld, B. (2011). Barbell hip thrust.Strength and Conditioning Journal,33(5), 58-61.
Contreras, B., Cronin, J., Schoenfeld, B., Nates, R., & Sonmez, G. (2013). Are all hip extension exercises created equal.Strength and Conditioning Journal,35(2), 17-22.
Schoenfeld, B. (2013). Potential mechanisms for a role of metabolic stress in hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training.Sports Medicine,43, 179-194.